Speaking during a Downing Street press conference this afternoon (5 July), Boris Johnson announced plans to remove almost all remaining Covid-19 restrictions on 19 July, heralding a return to normality after 16 months of on-off lockdown measures.
A final decision on whether to go ahead with the last phase of the roadmap will be taken in a week's time on 12 July.
Hospitality trade bodies have welcomed the Prime Minister's announcement, with UKHospitality saying that for the first time in more than a year businesses will be able to 'realistically move towards profitability'.
However, there are warnings that the lifting of restrictions only marks the beginning of the recovery, and there is still 'a long road back' for the sector.
Wearing face coverings will no longer be compulsory, and hospitality businesses will no longer be required to collect customer details for track and trace.
All remaining restrictions on social contact including the 'rule of six' and 'one metre plus' social distancing will be removed, and the requirement for pubs and restaurants to only operate table service is to be scrapped.
Perhaps most significantly, night-time economy businesses including nightclubs and live music venues will finally be able to reopen, having predominately remain closed since the start of the pandemic.
A review into the use of so-called Covid 'vaccine passports' has concluded there should be no legal requirements for their use as a condition of entry for any setting, but businesses will be able to voluntarily adopt certification.
This will be facilitated by the NHS app, which allows you to show your current vaccine and test status.
Instead of Government interventions, people in England will be encouraged to use their own judgment to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 infections. The Prime Minister said he will do 'everything possible' to avoid re-imposing restrictions, but refused to rule it out completely.
The only regulation that will remain for now will be a requirement to isolate after testing positive for Covid-19. Rules that currently require anyone who comes into contact with someone who is infected to quarantine for 10 days are expected to be amended, with more details due later in the week.
Addressing the nation, the Prime Minister said: “We must be honest with ourselves that if we can’t reopen our society in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer, and by the school holidays, we must ask ourselves, when will we be able to return to normal?”
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are in charge of their own Coronavirus rules, with each devolved Government setting out its own plan for lockdown easing.
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls says it comes as welcome news that hospitality venues will soon be able to cast off the restrictions that have heavily constrained them commercially.
"[This] marks a major milestone in how England will come to live with Covid and will be celebrated by hospitality business owners and their staff across the country," she says.
"For the vast majority of hospitality businesses, 19 July – if confirmed next week – will be the first time in 16 months that they have been able to realistically look to break even and move towards profitability.
“This progress is testament to the constructive and positive work that we have undertaken with Government, to pave the way for this timely handing over of responsibility, shifting from enforced legal requirements to an onus on personal and business responsibilities, to ensure that we continue to safeguard our staff and customers in the tried and tested ways we know work best.
“Hospitality businesses will continue to provide safe and enjoyable experiences as we move into the Summer and beyond and, in doing so, will also safeguard jobs, livelihoods and the venues we cherish so much.
"In order to do so, venues will need autonomy to act according to their own risk assessments, without local authority gold-plating, and a workable test and trace system that doesn’t demand blanket self-isolation like the test to remain-style system, to ensure that we can both protect our staff but trade with sufficient teams."
According to the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), the lifting of restrictions will mean more than 2,000 pubs that had been forced to stay shut because they couldn’t operate under social distancing and table service-only restrictions can reopen.
Despite welcoming the announcement, though, the trade body has warned that the lifting of restrictions will only mark the beginning of the sector’s recovery from Covid-19.
“Covid, the lockdowns and restrictions have nearly destroyed our pubs," says Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the BBPA.
"As they now get ready to reopen as normal once more, the recovery of our sector is only just beginning.
“Having been one of the worst hit sectors by lockdown, our pubs and brewers now need the Government to invest in them by reforming VAT, beer duty and business rates to reduce the unfair tax burden they face and aid their recovery."
After nearly 500 days of closure, the night-time economy has been encouraged by the Prime Minister's words, but remains frustrated that it will have to wait until next week for final confirmation that it can at last reopen.
“We were disappointed again, despite the positive noises, that the Prime Minister did not confirm that reopening would be going ahead on the 19 July." says Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, which represents 1,200 independent bars, clubs and live music venues across the UK.
"One week is simply not enough time for businesses to plan to reopen, and it betrays the sense that the Government doesn't understand what it takes to reopen a businesses after over a year without trading.
“To hear the Prime Minister say that we need to learn to live with this virus is a long overdue step, and will be a relief to our sector.
"It is difficult to overstate the significance of the impact the pandemic has had on this industry. The Government’s support package has been important but insufficient.
"After 479 days closed, we now need that counter set to zero so we can start to rebuild.”
A further easing of lockdown measures in Scotland is also scheduled to take place on 19 July, with most remaining restrictions potentially set to be dropped on 9 August.
The next review of restrictions in Wales is due on 15 July, and in Northern Ireland on 8 July.